Let me start with a confession. I love food, and I love good food passionately. My son, who used to observe my habits closely when he was growing up, would spell out my preferences eloquently. “Daddy’s idea of a good meal is a grilled fillet steak,” he would say, “with French fries, a platter of salad and a glass of red wine.” The lad had a stake in my diet, as you can see.
But things have changed since those days. I rarely eat beef fillets and other red meats, as I hear that they are not particularly good for my health. I have also dropped wine from my menu since I cut all alcohol out of my diet just over 30 years ago. Recent research-based findings, however, show that a glass or two of dry red wine a day may have benefits for the body.
That said, I remain hooked on to vinaigrette dressed green salads, a choice of fruits, like green apples, lemon and its citric relatives, and all sorts of berries, including plums, strawberries, and grapes (from which comes the wine). I am also addicted to nuts (you could say I am a nut for nuts), all the way from my favourite njugu karanga (groundnuts) to cashew nuts.
Incidentally, lemon is best consumed as juice or pulp, since it is not only overly sharp to the taste but also injurious to the enamel of the teeth. Indeed, nutrition gurus advise that a drink of lemon juice should always be followed by a glass of plain water, to get the lemon remnants off the teeth. As for water, we should always take generous doses of it every day.
The oft-mentioned “eight litres” of water per day is a lot of liquid, and one may be forgiven for feeling dismayed at the prospect of downing it all within the space of 24 hours. But the secret of water is to take it in small quantities but at frequent intervals. Moreover, it does not have to be always dull, plain H2O. You can consume it in the form of juices and teas, or simply spice it with squeezes of fruit, slices of ginger, cucumber and other tangy fruits.
I am, however, yet to verify advice I got from India recently that I should always be seated when I drink my glass of water. Do we possibly deny ourselves the benefits of “seated” water in these days of constantly eating and drinking on the go?
Overeating, however, is what got me thinking of food and drink today. It started with a broadcast conversation I heard over the radio recently about overeating. It may sound ironic, to talk of overeating on a continent or in a country, and in cities, where having one square meal a day is a veritable challenge for many of our people. There are even people dying of hunger not far from us, despite our strenuous efforts to deny the ugly reality. Maybe we should more appropriately be talking about malnutrition and starvation.
But, as I learnt from that conversation, there are surprising but close links among these matters victual and nutritional. To begin with, every act of overeating leads to a case of undernourishment somewhere. Secondly, eating a lot is not necessarily good eating. Malnourishment is as much a problem of eating the wrong things, or eating in the wrong way, as it is a lack of things to eat. Thirdly, overeating is a major cause of environmental degradation all over the world.
A few instances from our own experiences and observations illustrate these problems. Obviously, the inequitable distribution of the available food in our societies leads to some people missing out on their entitlement of the food while others are oversupplied, indeed with enough to gorge themselves, and even waste and throw away. I hear the proportion of food that we waste and throw away in Africa is a third of what we produce!
The imbalance is not only between developed and undeveloped countries (although we export nearly all the best of our produce) but also between the rural areas and the cities. So, while the well-to-do city dwellers have more than enough with which to stuff themselves and to dump into their waste bins, the rural people, the main producers of the food, remain with only scraps to sustain themselves. Are these “economic imperatives”?
This, however, does not necessarily make the privileged people happier than the starvelings of the “bush”. This is because healthy eating is not about consuming a lot of stuff but choosing the right kinds of food to eat. Generally, we are advised that fresh, natural, foods should be preferred to factory processed ones. Plant-derived foods are safer than animal products, like meat, milk, cheese and eggs. We should keep down to a minimum heavy starches, sugars, salt and thick frying oils in our daily rations.
How many of us, however, middle class city dwellers, heed these simple precepts? We keep feasting on heaps of juicy grills and roasts, mountains of ugali and rice, washing it all down with kegs of alcohol and syrupy sodas. We stuff our children with oily fries and sausages as well as creamy ices and sugar-loaded cakes. Then we turn round and moan about our veritable epidemics, like diabetes and obesity, including child obesity, a truly sad condition.
The currently blazing Amazon forest fires have dramatically highlighted another danger of the wrong approach to food. We have long known that one of the causes of the destruction of the vitally necessary Amazon rainforest, especially in Brazil, has been the demand for soybeans and corn to feed the large herds of cattle out there. The cattle are, of course, the source of America’s beloved steaks and beef burgers. We are, thus, destroying the Amazonian environment, to the peril of the entire world’s climate, for the love of a burger.
The irony is that it would be a lot healthier for us to eat our soya and corn directly instead of feeding it to cattle. Bon appétit!